Boudin Dan’s Ear Bliss reviews for 10/17/19: Joan Shelley, Del Barber

EAR BLISS album reviews by Boudin Dan

(Joan Shelley photo by Amber Estes Thieneman)

Recent releases from a couple of superb singer/songwriters are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Acclaimed by the likes of NPR and The New York Times for her past work, Louisville-based Joan Shelley returns with a new album recorded in Iceland of all places, called Like the River Loves the Sea. It will find favor with any lover of great songs in the folk style. Also receiving the Ear Bliss look-see is the latest album from the JUNO (Canadian equivalent of our Grammy awards) nominated Americana songwriter and Manitoba native Del Barber called Easy Keeper. Fans of detail-oriented songwriting will find much to like about Barber’s highly literate songs. Let’s take a look.

Joan Shelly

Like the River Loves the Sea

No Quarter Records

Over the course of what with her latest release is now five solo albums, four of which are for the small No Quarter record label, the Louisville singer/songwriter Joan Shelley has always adopted the “quiet” approach to music making. By quiet, I mean arrangements built mostly around fingerpicking on acoustic guitar by she and her longtime guitarist Nathan Salsburg and usually little else. That back-to-basics approach to folk music allows for much space for her beautiful voice and equally beautiful and poetic way with words to work their magic. That she does once again, with a touch more help, on the recently released Like the River Loves the Sea. For this latest, Shelley and Salsburg along with co-producer James Elkington traveled to the Greenhaus Studios in Reykjavík, Iceland where they spent five days laying down the tracks that would eventually comprise Like the River Loves the Sea. Shelley chose the locale to see what it might bring to her songs and music. As she told Uncut Magazine, “Landscape has always had a strong effect on my imagination and the way I hear music. Similar to how different alcohols have different intoxicating effects on people. I’d heard that Iceland has such an otherworldly landscape…I wanted to see what it would be like to make music there, to make music under its influence.” Joining in on the recording session was an Icelandic string duo consisting of violin and cello. Harmony vocals courtesy of friends Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Shelley’s side project Maiden Radio were added later. Shelley’s music has always drawn from the many musical traditions of Kentucky – British, Irish, and African. The 12 original compositions featured on Like the River Loves the Sea splinter elements of those traditions into the overall vibe. As with past albums, her conversational singing style combined with the relaxed but intricate melodies make for a truly intimate listening experience, with a sprinkle of Iceland, of course. Recommended. Visit

Joan Shelley appears at The Red Room at Cafe 939 located at 939 Boylston Street in Boston on Friday, November 15 at 8 pm.


Del Barber

Easy Keeper

Acronym Records

The album Easy Keeper from Canadian singer/songwriter Del Barber marks his first album as a truly independent artist after recordings released for celebrated North-of-the-border labels Six Shooter and True North. It is also his first album since leaving Winnipeg for a recently purchased farm in the rural west of his native Manitoba. As proven by his past albums, when it comes to songwriting Barber is a craftsman of the highest order. Best classified as Americana for his folk/country mix, the new Easy Keeper stays true to past form as he weaves some pretty good yarns in song on it. Many read like mini novels, from the woman who works as a gas station attendant whose life is turned upside down by the turbulence in the oil industry as chronicled by the song “No Easy Way Out” to vivid portraits of small-town life (the cool and twangy leadoff track “Dancing In The Living Room” and “Everyday Life”). Remindful of the Texas singer/songwriter Bruce Robison, Barber’s easygoing and likeable voice to go with some great backing featuring plenty of tasteful acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars all adds up to an album that wears well on the ears and the psyche. Visit


(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)